BEND, OR -- A neighborhood south of Bend is earning national recognition for its widespread effort to prevent the spread of wildfire. Joe Stutler, Deschutes County’s Senior Advisor for Forestry and Natural Resources, has worked with Sunset View Estates for more than 10 years.
He says the neighborhood was first rated at extremely high risk for wildfire in 2004, "But, over a five-year period, nothing happened; it remained the same. In fact, it got worse. So, when they received the second 'High Density Extreme' designation, in 2009, there’d been new people that moved in, new people on the board, so they really took the rating seriously. And that’s when we began working with them to do some of the work." Stutler explains "High" is the lowest rating possible in Central Oregon, due to the region's overall fire risk, "You have High Density Extreme, Extreme and High." He tells KBND News, "In a three-year period, they went from High Density Extreme to High and a FireWise Community; so that shows you the level of effort and commitment that that neighborhood made to fixing their problems."
Through a county grant and help from Project Wildfire, residents limbed trees, mowed vacant lots, cleared debris and created defensible space. And, Stutler says, the neighborhood-wide effort has continued for several years, through funding and support from the homeowner association.
In March, Sunset View Estates will be awarded a National Wildland Fire Mitigation Award, which is typically given to civic groups or organizations. "This award has been going on since 2014. They annually recognize a half a dozen recipients," says Stutler, "This is the first time in the history of the award that an individual neighborhood has been selected and that is, really, an incredible honor."
Submitted photo: Stutler tells KBND this tree on a vacant lot was struck by lightning. But, because the property had been treated by mowing and limbing, the resulting fire didn't spread. "Even though the fire burned the tree some and some ground litter around the base, because there was little to no available fuel for the fire, it was quickly suppressed by Bend Fire." Prior to the neighborhood work, "brush and other highly flammable fuels were so dense, one could not walk through this property."